When the news of Simple’s acquisition hit this morning, it immediately dawned on me that I have been so incredibly lucky to be around—recording and blogging—the company’s entire Portland existence. Read More
When the economy gets tough, tough companies know they have to focus to survive. And unfortunately for my music recommendation dreams, Corvallis-based Strands has decided to do just that.
It’s official. One of the businesses that helped Strands get started—MyStrands music—is no longer part of the offering. Strands put the final nail in the MyStrands music service, today. Read More
Corvallis-headquartered Strands has always had a definitive focus on the power of recommender technology—a technology that use an amalgamation of personal actions, actions of like-minded individuals, and inferences from those actions to make recommendations. But they’ve struggled a bit finding the appropriate and market worthy applications of that technology. They’ve pursued music, lifestreaming, and—most recently—exercise.
Yet all the while, the moneyStrands team was busily slaving away. Building cool features. Running private betas. Working to build a tool for helping people better manage their finances.
Well now, all of that hard work has paid off: moneyStrands is now open for business.
What does moneyStrands do?
After a very informative private beta phase we are happy to have finally taken the critical step of opening up our registration to new users. This officially kicks off a new and exciting phase of our journey to help people better manage their financial lives.
I’ve just started mucking with moneyStrands, but at the outset, it strikes me as very much like Mint, the popular personal finance tool. Still, it has something more: Strands recommender technology.
moneyStrands’ intelligent recommendation engine searches expert tips, relevant facts, and product offers from many sources to nd the best deals and advice that match your financial profile. As your life changes, your financial goals also change. moneyStrands learns, anticipates and adapts to your needs and priorities along the way.
Plus—thanks no doubt to their NetworthIQ acquistion—you can share and compare details with others:
Find and connect with like-minded members who share your goals and your traits. See how you compare, share your thoughts on best bargains or just exchange financial tips and money missteps. Your experience is as valuable as any others and there is no better insider track than following to the word of mouth.
For more details on all the ways moneyStrands can help you with your personal finances, download the moneyStrands poster. To take it for a spin, visit moneyStrands (if you’re a Strands user, you can use the same login.)
[HTML2]How? Much in the same way they took the time to clean up their Web-based UI, the Strands folks announced that they have put their design ingenuity into optimizing the Strands mobile site for the popular Apple products.
And it’s looking really good. What’s more, it’s much easier to deal with than loading the old Web UI.
But don’t just take my word for it. There are much more reputable types chiming in on the release (and I’m not just saying that because I appear in their screenshots).
Louis Gray finds the interface making definite strides forward:
Back in August, when I first discussed the lifestreaming site’s beta offering, I found myself fairly critical of its user interface, saying it minimized some of the best features, including the actual feeds from your friends’ activity. In the last few months, thanks to feedback from its growing user base, the team has doubled down efforts to simplify the UI, and they managed to do well enough that the site works well, even in my 3.5″ wide iPhone.
And Duncan Riley agreed:
Lifestreaming service Strands continues to impress with its rapid growth in features, with a new mobile interface being launched targeted at iPhone users.
I remain a fan of Strands and their, um, strides. And I can’t hardly wait for the next big leap forward, when their recommender technology enters the picture. That, my friends, is when we’ll see the true power of this platform.
What’s that? You’ve somehow missed out on trying Strands? Have no fear, gentle reader. Simply leave a comment below with a valid email address, and I’ll make sure that you get in to try it out.
I can’t help you with the iPhone, though.
To its credit, the Strands team was open to criticism—taking its detractors head-on—and, as such, they continued to elicit tons of valuable feedback on ways to improve the service.
Now, you get the chance to see some of those improvements with the latest release of Strands.
Gone are the dark and constrained streams of information. Now, they’re open, legible, and much more inviting.
It’s definitely a marked improvement. And one that will likely draw me back into a more participatory role. As opposed to my current use: allowing Strands to churn along—ignored in the background as it works at capturing my lifestream.
This update makes me want to get back into the fray. Because, now, it seems so much more usable.
And I’m not the only one.
While it hasn’t yet gotten the buzz of some other social aggregators and lifestreaming projects, Strands is quietly going about making a product on par with the market leaders, letting the community find new content and people, and enabling micro-conversations.
I couldn’t be happier to see Strands getting these kinds of strokes.
If you’re a current Strands user (and I know a ton of you in Portland and Corvallis are), I’d highly recommend heading back over to Strands to give it a second look.
If you’re interested in trying Strands, comment below and I’ll be happy to get you an invite. I’ve got about 13 left. First come, first served.
[Editor: And the “Why Portland?” series—which began with Intrigo and continued with Tim Kadlec—continues with Heather N of Strands. What’s Strands? Well, if you’d like to find out, something tells me that “Portland” may also help you get into their private BETA. Now, on with the story…]
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and Los Angeles was the last place I imagined living.
But about a year after graduating college, I was working in Santa Monica at a new social network called TagWorld, focusing on online marketing, business development and project management. And, after becoming immersed in Los Angeles tech and social media, Portland seemed even further away.
But, as TagWorld evolved into Flux (Viacom as a minority investor), I became more aware of a growing tech scene in Portland and the temptation to return grew.
Eventually, I decided my relationship with LA was coming to an end, and Portland called. Soon enough, I found myself at Strands as the new Community Manager. Strands is headquartered in Corvallis, but I have been given the opportunity to work remotely and evangelize to the Portland community, which I am very excited about.
For the past four years, Strands has been working to develop social recommender systems that can be applied to numerous verticals. After a very active 2007 ($55M raised in VC funding; $12M in sales), 2008 is the year we will be presenting this technology to the world. We are applying our recommendation technologies to three areas: personal finance, social media, and business solutions.
Though I have only begun my journey into the tech sphere of Portland, I have already noticed an interesting dichotomy with that of Los Angeles.
LA is all about competition, competition, competition
I won’t go as far to say that the tech community in Los Angeles is as cut throat as their entertainment industry, but in some cases it’s a close second. With a new NDA being drawn up every minute, companies offering the world to a person to join them and leave their current position and enemy lines being drawn between social media companies, there is a definite switch in the overall feeling of community in LA.
Of course there are some amazing start-ups and tech companies that don’t employ as aggressive tactics, but they’re a bit harder to find in LA than here in Portland.
It’s only been a few weeks and I already feel happily welcomed into the Portland tech community. Not only do people from different companies and verticals work together, but also everyone I have met has been very willing to help in whatever capacity that may be. This makes me realize that the overall sense of the Portland tech industry is much like that of the people of this city.
Portland is free of over-saturation
To me Portland is the perfect size. Not only in terms of a city but also that of tech. I am shocked to see just how much is going on in tech and social media in this town, but doubt it will ever become too much.
In LA, I worked in a three-block radius of some of the biggest tech companies in the world and that was just in Santa Monica. Though you do run into a lot of the same people and I did make some amazing relationships, it was never possible to get a stronghold on the entire tech community.
In Portland it seems everyone is connected and the close-knit environment is not only inviting, but extremely helpful in my job objective for Strands.
Portland excels at “Keeping it Real”
Los Angeles is a city full of archetypal sorts that exist nowhere else—other than our minds. Though the tech world of LA is separate from this, these models of perfection that only LA possesses occasionally bleed over.
I don’t feel that the Portland is trying to be something its not. The unrealistic idealism that floats through Los Angeles has not made its way to Portland, and I love that.
As much as I am now at the point of critique, I would never trade a second of my time in Los Angeles. I became immersed in a world I never would have dreamed of being a part of and now can take the experience with me.
I am very ready to submerge myself in the Portland tech community and get people as interested and excited in Strands as I am.
Have you got a “Why Portland?” story to tell? I’d love to hear it. Feel free to drop me note at siliconflorist at gmail.
Corvallis-based Strands, the company that is working to apply its recommender technology to help folks find more stuff to like, has been going through a bit of a metamorphosis as of late. And while they’re not quite ready to emerge from the chrysalis, they are starting to show some hints of where they’re going.
One such hint was released in private BETA yesterday: the new Strands.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to sit in on a group demo that the Strands folks provided on Wednesday evening. Nathan Bell, Adam DuVander, Troy H., Aaron Hockley, Don Park, Bram Pitoyo, Josh Pyles, and Olga Pyles (among others) were all in attendance, as well. So you may see posts from them, too.
So what is this new Strands thingamajig? Long story short, Strands is now offering a social lifestreaming service. But with a twist.
I realize that many of you out there may have a big “WTF is lifestreaming?” bubble floating over your head right now. So rather than continue to geekily blather on about it, I thought I would take the opportunity to step back and define “lifestreaming.”
Then, we’ll all be on the same proverbial page.
Lifestreaming consists of aggregating all your disparate online activities into one single feed of information.
So, for example, you post photos on flickr, you update your Facebook profile, you send a few tweets to Twitter, you favorite a video on YouTube, you add some bookmarks to ma.gnolia, and you post a message to your blog.
All of these are data points relating to you but they’re all beholden to those respective services.
Using a lifestream, you collect these data points in one spot—aggregating all of these activities into a chronological stream—and in so doing, you provide contextual reference for those seemingly disparate activities.
Think “one stop” for all of your activities on the Web.
Still not clicking? ReadWriteWeb posted a great write-up on lifestreaming services in January 2008 which may be of interest.
Okay. So that’s lifestreaming. Why do it?
Good question. Because, to date, lifestreaming has been yet another flavor of navel gazing. Another channel of noise to monitor. Especially if you tend to follow people on individual services and then follow their respective lifestreams.
You’re getting everything in stereo stereo.
The real value—apart from one-point access to a variety of datastreams—has been difficult to define. Yes, we can do it, but should we do it?
Well, now, that answer may very well be “Yes.” You see, with Strands, there’s now actually a reason to do it. And there’s value in doing it.
But before we can get on to the cool Strands stuff, there’s a huge elephant in this room into which I keep bumping. So let’s resolve that, shall we?
Isn’t this just another flavor of FriendFeed?
In the tech industry, we’re constantly searching for analogies to describe new services. And it’s a struggle. So when someone comes along and introduces a concept, they gain more than first-mover advantage: they become the analogy.
So, yes, the comparisons to FriendFeed are immediate, obvious, and deserved. But that comparison shouldn’t serve as a means of dismissing the Strands service.
Why? Well, two primary reasons.
First of all, a little over six months ago, none of us even knew what FriendFeed was. Granted, a great deal has changed since that point in time, with FriendFeed quickly moving into “media darling” status. But fact of the matter is that, before that point, tumblr could have easily been deemed the leading lifestreaming service. But FriendFeed raised the bar.
Now, Strands has raised that lifestreaming bar higher.
And I believe they’ve raised it in a way that actually moves sharing and comparing lifestreams from the realm of fleeting interest and curiosity to the realm of actually being helpful and valuable to those who choose to participate.
Second reason we shouldn’t simply dismiss Strands as an also ran? Well, it’s an opportunity for me to use one of my favorite platitudes: Google wasn’t the first search engine.
Or, in other words, just because you’re first and popular doesn’t mean you automatically win—or that you’ve solved the problem. (Or maybe it does. If you can find anyone from Alta Vista to attest to winning that search engine race, I’m all ears.)
So yes, Strands has some similarities to FriendFeed. And it stands up quite well, toe-to-toe, on those similarities.
But where it shines, of course, is in the areas that Strands differs from FriendFeed.
What makes Strands different?
What makes Strands different is not necessarily the tangible features there today.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a number of cool features, even in this early version of the service: a desktop client, filtering, interesting graphs of activity, and some smooth AJAXy transitions. From an aesthetic standpoint, Strands is prettier than FriendFeed. There’s more eye candy. There’s this little thing over here. And that little thing over there.
I could go on and on, but the Strands team has posted detailed feature list for the service on their blog. So, I’ll let them describe what’s there, currently.
Or we could complain about what’s not there. Where’s the RSS? Where’s the API? Why can’t I login with OpenID?
There are a lot of things still on the road map. But it’s a private BETA, so that’s to be expected.
All that I’m saying is that I don’t think focusing on a feature-by-feature write-up is the best place to spend our time. (Especially after forcing you to read through that overbearing intro.)
So where should we focus? Well, I’m most impressed with the concept—which holds a great deal of potential—and the vision for where this could possibly go. Because I actually get it.
I have to admit, I never quite got FriendFeed. I’m sure it’s there to get. But I just never quite grokked it. I couldn’t get over the hump. Despite my minimal efforts to do so.
With Strands, I get it.
So I’m going to focus less on “what it does” and more on “why I’m definitely going to use it.”
I’m going to use it because it gives my lifestream value—and it gives me more valuable resources through participation. By applying its recommender technology to your lifestream and the lifestreams of the folks you’re following, Strands will start delivering recommendations to you.
I do something and I get rewarded for sharing that data. I get other stuff that I might find cool—stuff I may have never found otherwise.
And that, to me, is valuable. Exceedingly valuable. Because I like new stuff. And I especially like cool new stuff.
So now, instead of just getting a chronological aggregation of data, you and I will get the opportunity to start making sense of all that noise. As more and more data is added to the various lifestreams of the folks you’re following, you’ll start to see trends, popular items, and recommendations of things that you might like.
The service aims to take the social media aggregation FriendFeed offers to the next level by offering social recommendations on top of it. The company aims to use your friends as a filter to “hot” content you’ll be interested in.
Or to put it another way, the stuff that may be important to you bubbles to the top. Where you can see it. And act on it. And this stuff may even be stuff that you didn’t realize was important. It may be something entirely new.
So what’s the catch?
The catch is the classic catch: none of this works without a sheer girth of users and data.
A recommendation engine needs data fuel on which to run, otherwise it can’t make any recommendations.
But that seems like an easy problem to solve.
So let’s start solving it.
Interested in trying out Strands? Well, head on over to the signup page and use the promo code “portland.” That will get you an account on Strands (well, the first 100 or so of you, anyway).
[Update: Seems as if there has been some confusion about where to use the promo code. To clarify…]
Then, add some folks.
And that will help solve this problem of “getting people to use the service.” And then we’ll get to see how this recommendation stuff really works. And how well the algorithm functions. And if we’re really finding cool new stuff or not.
Again, it’s private BETA, so it’s not for the faint of heart. But I’d love to see you over there. And I’d love to get your take on the new service.
I think it has the potential to change the way we influence one and another.
And that’s pretty exciting.
Corvallis-based Strands, the company that develops technologies to better understand people’s taste and help them discover things they like, is holding a Portland meetup to unveil some of the new stuff they’ve been building.
And they’re promising big things:
On May 28th, we will be opening up our newest service, Strands.com under private beta, a very early version of what we think will be something very relevant for people, very ambitious in the data portability space. We’ve organized a meet-up for the Portland community and would love for you to attend.
Ryan Williams, the guy who has worked to make the NetworthIQ service one of the more popular personal finance management services on the Web, finally announced the news this morning, bringing to fruition the news at which he hinted long, long ago. (Looks like Ryan’s old Twitter account has been deleted, but here are a couple of my and Jason Harris’ replies to some of Ryan’s cryptic hints.)
So, now the news is out. And it’s great news for a couple of Silicon Forest startups.
News, in fact, that a number of outlets have already beat me to covering—The Oregonian, the Portland Business Journal, GigaOm… oh a little blog you may have heard of called TechCrunch, which had this to say:
Just over two weeks ago Strands acquired Expensr, and now the company is announcing its acquisition of NetworthIQ. Both are personal finance applications that Strands wanted mostly for their human capital, but also for some of their technology assets. The terms of both deals were not disclosed.
Ryan provided some insight in his post entitled “Breaking the silence“:
It was just over 3 years ago that we started working on NetworthIQ. It was a bit of a bumpy ride. In the first couple months, I wasn’t sure if it was going to make it, but with a couple of high-profile press mentions we were off and running. The idea for NetworthIQ was pretty basic, apply the popular Web 2.0 principles of the time (social networking, public sharing, collective intelligence) and apply it to personal finance, something that hadn’t been done before. There was the occasional “this is the dumbest site ever” comment, but for the most part we always got great response and feedback from those that signed up, which was what kept me going.
But, as usual, I just wasn’t satisfied. So I asked Ryan if he could give me some more insight on how the deal went down and what it meant for the future. And Ryan was kind enough to share some additional thoughts on this momentous occasion.
Surprisingly, the news that took so long to make it to the public, actually came about pretty quickly.
“It’s funny, in the weeks before I was contacted by Strands, I had been scanning their jobs after the latest funding round,” said Williams. “Just to see, you know? Nothing serious. But, then I heard from them and the talks progressed pretty quickly.”
A music recommendation service and a personal finance management service would have seemed like strange bedfellows at the time. But that was because none of us knew about moneyStrands until just recently.
But Strands and Williams knew.
“It was easy to see there was a good fit with what we were doing on NetworthIQ and where Strands was going with the moneyStrands project,” he said. “In a matter of a couple weeks I was ready to come onboard.”
A Cinderella story? A side project turned full time? Absolutely.
“Since starting NetworthIQ, I was working towards being able to work on a startup full-time, but as a relatively older web entrepreneur, there were more things to worry about. I hadn’t yet reached the point of being able to drop the day job,” said Williams. “This was a chance to make that happen, and with the talented and driven Strands team, it made the decision easy.”
But, even at this moment of victory, the humble Williams downplays the whole thing.
“I know for many, it’s not the most exciting technology to be working on—personal finance tools—but I’m really drawn to building things that are useful to me personally,” he said. “And personal finance tools are what I spend a good amount of time in. Plus with the way things are going with the economy and our increasing dependence on consumer debt, I think it’s a very important area to innovate in.”
So what does the future hold for Strands and its new technology? And where is that innovation going to take place?
Unfortunately, that’s another secret for which we’ll have to wait.